Hi there travelers and adventurers! Welcome to my article on Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. My name is Savannah DiMuro and I spent the first 24 years of my life living in Florida, the Sunshine State.
The year and a half prior to starting vanlife, I lived in Seattle and was working as an engineer. My partner and I both really love the outdoors and spend most of our free time climbing and hiking, so vanlife seemed like a fantastic way to enjoy those activities while exploring more of the US.
Recently, a relative of mine who has spent a lot of time in Santa Fe suggested that we go to Bandelier National Monument. I had never heard of it before but it ended up exceeding my expectations. Now, it’s probably one of my favorite national monuments in the country. While there, I did two trails: Main Ruin Loop and Alcove House. Both were short but epic!
Why Bandelier National Monument is so Unique
Bandelier National Monument is one of the most unique destinations in America. It’s very interactive as you get to climb up ladders along the trails to go into ancient cave dwellings that were used by indigenous people. The scenery is stunning as well – it’s much different to what you would expect to see in New Mexico. There are lots of forests and huge rocky cliffs here.
The Ancestral Puebloans are the ones who built the cave dwellings right throughout the canyon thousands of years ago. They eventually moved on and built pueblos along the river, abandoning their cave dwellings which became historical markers of their presence at Bandelier. You can sense the history of this place and the presence of Native American cultures, which makes the national monument really special in my opinion.
My Experience at Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument wasn’t very crowded while I was there. The trails I did – Main Ruin Loop Trail and Alcove House Trail – are the two most popular ones so naturally they were more crowded as almost everyone in the national monument was on them. I had to wait a few minutes in line to go up into a few of the cave dwellings but overall it wasn’t too busy.
My favorite experience at Bandelier was getting to go into the ancient cave dwellings. While being in there you get to imagine what life was like for the Pueblo people. Most of the dwellings have multiple “rooms” which make it feel more like a home. You can still see the charred rock where their fireplace would have been. It’s amazing to see how different things were that long ago and how much we take for granted now.
Need to Know Before you Go
Since I’m living in a camper van, I parked overnight about 15 minutes outside of the monument at a dispersed camping area in the Santa Fe National Forest. The closest city to the park is Los Alamos but I’m not sure what their accommodation is like. Santa Fe would probably be the best bet for people who aren’t camping: only an hour away and it’s a really cool city.
Santa Fe has lots of character, tons of little restaurants and art galleries. My favorite spot there is Meow Wolf, an interactive art installation. Going further into the Santa Fe National Forest is amazing as well. It’s a very scenic drive with tons of mountains, trails and even some hot springs.
In summary, Bandelier National Monument is an amazing place to visit while traveling through New Mexico. The only thing you need to know before visiting is to bring water and wear grippy shoes so you can climb up into the caves. Thanks for reading and enjoy your adventures at Bandelier!